Higher Education faces massive university fee shortfall

Higher Education faces massive university fee shortfall

The department of higher education has very limited scope to reprioritise its spending to bridge the funding gap of an estimated R2.3 billion that will arise following the scrapping of university fee increases for 2016, its chief financial officer warned on Wednesday.

Wits 22/10/2015

Theuns Tredoux told Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education the department had only R300 million to put towards funding the looming shortfall.

“The current ability to reprioritise in the department is almost zero,” he replied when pressed on the subject by MPs.

“If we take money from one area to another we will damage the area where we reprioritise from. At the moment we have R300 million as part of the assistance from the department to fund the zero percent increase.”

Tredoux was formally briefing the committee on the state of technical and vocational education training colleges, but chairwoman Yvonne Phosa demanded greater clarity on the projected university funding gap.

“We need to know and the public need to know the exact amount we need to offset this zero percent increase. The 2.3 billion is not accurate,” she said.

Phosa suggested government should have acted sooner on university students’ discontent on fees that saw nationwide protests last month and forced President Jacob Zuma to announce there would be no increases next year.

After that announcement, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said there would be another within days to address the shortfall but this was cancelled.

On Tuesday, the Democratic Alliance said Zuma had taken the decision to scrap increases to make himself look good but with no consideration for how the shortfall would be funded, or the already precarious finances of universities, and left Nzimande to handle the problem.

“He did so with a casual disregard for the harsh realities of university funding, his put-upon department of higher education and training, our 26 poorly subsidised universities and his beleaguered and floundering minister and ally, Blade Nzimande.

“The department, which has been chronically underfunded for 20 years while its mandate has steadily and dramatically expanded, will be expected to pay a staggering R1.9bn of the shortfall from funds already set aside for vital educational projects to benefit students from poor and working class backgrounds.”

Phosa warned that the department could not allow fees to increase at technical colleges while those at universities remained unchanged.

“That protests, I am telling you, we will not be able to manage and it will be much better to prevent it. We have established a wrong precedence. Students have learnt that unless they take matters into their own hands nothing will happen. It is not for them to to force us to find solutions.”

Tredoux said there was some, but not much, scope to shift funds from the 21 sector education and training authorities (Setas), which get about R13 billion in ring-fenced funds a year from the skills levy, to these colleges.

“The ability of the department, even within Seta surplus funding, is extremely limited and we will have a situation at some point where the baseline funding of the department needs to be increased.” - ANA

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